Dear friends,

A little bit more than 2 years ago in Milan, you chose me as the President of this great organisation for a second term. Privilege that I have made my life and priority.

The past two years have been hard for our organisation. Internal and external forces have tried to destroy what we have built together for more than a hundred years. The work we have done together in benefit of pure-bred dogs around the world. Everywhere in the WORLD, from Peru to Egypt. From Vietnam to The Netherlands. From Norway to China.

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Rafael de Santiago
FCI President
A Christmas tale
The spots with which Dalmatians were blessed

After the first Advent in history came the heart-rending day of the Holy Innocents, on which a part was played by some anonymous figures about which I am now going to tell you.

A star with a tail appeared in the sky and was seen by the Three Wise Men, the Kings of Orient. It heralded the birth of God’s greatest gift to the world and to humanity - His own Son. So Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar set off on their way, guided by that bright light.

In the meantime, God had decreed that He should be born in a manger in a lowly stable, hollowed out from rocks somewhere on the outskirts of Bethlehem. There, kept warm by the breath of the powerful ox, watched over by the placid mule, the doves and an old three-coloured cat who sat in the warmth of Mary’s lap, He was worshipped by the shepherds and local people, including a merchant from Illyria, which is in the area now known as Dalmatia, near the Adriatic Sea. The merchant’s name was Titus Rhizus and he was a pious man who had Romanised his first name and taken the name of his native city as a surname. He farmed some land granted to him by all-powerful Rome in the new protectorate of the Kingdom of Judea as a result of his status as a former soldier who had been decorated for bravery. The Dalmatian people were famous warriors who, back in the first century AD, had their own unit in the Roman Army, the Cohors II Delmatarum, which was set up in the days of that aristocratic Caesar the Emperor Domitian.

He was accompanied by a number of his inseparable Illyrian dogs, which were as white as snow with black ears, and, like them, he was deeply moved to be one of the few witnesses to the Holy Nativity. Afterwards he returned to his estate a happy and contented man.

The Magi’s journey led them near King Herod’s Palace, so they went to ask him for shelter for the night in good faith. Cruel Herod welcomed them and threw a party in their honour. When he asked them the reason for their royal delegation of wise men, they answered that they had come to worship the King of Kings, the Son of God who had been made flesh and born in Bethlehem.

The wily Herod was startled by this. He thought for a while before making his evil answer, asking his “cousins” (an ancient form of address used between kings and queens, whether they were related by blood or not) to tell him exactly where Jesus had been born and whether there was anything that the new King needed so that he, Herod, could take it to Him and thus be able to worship Him as well. As he said this he rubbed his hands in glee. The old, white-haired Melchior did not like either the way that he smiled, showing his sharp teeth, or the sallow look on his face and so, on his advice, all three of Wise Men set off after the party to follow the guiding star.

The royal astrologers reached the humble room in which the Holy Family were staying and offered the Christ Child gold, frankincense and myrrh, not on a whim but with great meaning; gold because it meant power and that Christ had been born King of Kings, incense because it was the holy perfume acknowledging the divinity of the new-born child, and myrrh, which was a balm used to anoint the dead, in order to acknowledge His humble, human nature… They worshiped and glorified Him, they gave thanks for having been able to recognise the Saviour in His person and then they quietly set off for the faraway Orient, riding their hairy-humped camels, accompanied by a simple retinue of attendants, and carefully avoiding going anywhere near the royal palace occupied by the fearful, evil Herod.

However it was all in vain as the King of Judea’s many spies alerted the most infamous child-killer in human history. However, as he did not know where the newborn Messiah might be, he gave an order that all children born in his kingdom up to the age of two should be put to the knife so that he could not be supplanted on his earthly throne, even this did not interest the King of Heaven. Afterwards, each house in which there had been a death was marked with a black pitch cross.

This was also when the Guardian Angel made his first appearance, telling the chaste father Joseph, the Holy Patriarch, that death lay in wait for Jesus. The Angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt and that once they were there he would be told when it was safe to return. He was also told that he would be protected by a Divine Breath but that he should make haste as it was already late… Horrified, Joseph used the little money he had left to buy an old donkey which was destined for the slaughterhouse, then he woke Our Lady, lifted her up onto the noble beast, and they fled as fast as they could.

Herod’s soldiers saw them running away and gave chase, but they soon came across Illyrian Titus’s dogs. They ran from the ostium (what we would call the entrance or doorway) of the nearby villa and attacked the soldiers with enormous growls and barking, preventing them from pursuing the family as they fled to protect the life of the newborn Child. The soldiers defended themselves and drew their swords, splashing the dogs with blood from their arms and pitch from the brushes and vessels that they were carrying. Faced with the wild pack of dogs with their white teeth and the uproar they were causing, the soldiers retreated, cursing the dogs. With no light other than that of the moon, Titus Rhizus watched all of this happening from the window of the <cubiculum (bedroom) of his villa, silent and afraid. The soldiers went away, convinced that the fugitives were poor pariahs whose son was of no importance and that the King would never find out that they had got away.

Far away in the distance, the Virgin Mary was so grateful that she blessed the dogs under her laboured breath, begging God that, in memory of their noble actions, their descendents should be born as white as snow, and that when they grew up some of them should have red spots all over their bodies, in memory of the blood spilt by the innocents, and others should have black spots in memory of the pitch used to mark the doors of the families of the murdered children… Coming from her pure lips, the prayer was answered and, in memory of that time long ago, it is still true of the descendents of that pack of dogs even today. This is why God, the divine Maker of the world, covered these noble creatures with a spotted coat.

Rafael Fernández de Zafra